My mum was one hell of a woman. She slipped away peacefully last Sunday morning, a nurse stroking her hair. She hung on until she had seen last of her nine children the evening before. The sun poured into the room as the kindly doctor told us she had died an hour before. We had started to believe that mum, the ultimate matriarch, was invincible. Battle after battle, she came back with a renewed determination to carry on. Stoicism really was her second name. Despite what life threw at her, she would come right back. She had a thirst for life. Her family loved and adored her, and she returned their love in bucket loads. As a parent she was a tigress, uncompromising, unflinching, always on our side, never ever backing down. God help you if you wronged her. She was the glue that held us together, the focus of all of us, the centre of any family do. But, oh my God, she was funny. She would often have us in hysterics. When one of my brothers bumped into her in town one day, he said, ‘hi Mum’. She looked at him for a moment, before saying: ‘I know your face from somewhere!’ Often, on the phone, she would go through all of our names before settling on the right one.
She came over here on the boat from southern Ireland with her husband, as a young bride in the 1950s. How pretty she was. It’s hard to see him as handsome. We all remember a terrible and cruel drunk, forcing us to search for food in the shed. When he left we were left homeless and well-meaning social workers wanted to split us all up. ‘Over my dead body’, or words to that effect, was the reaction of Mum. We had a series of unthinkable homes before resting in a council house in the country. Never was a family more deserving of a home and a new start. We were oblivious as she fought hard and pushed herself to the limit, to get the rent paid in order to get us a decent home. Mum was bright, but not too proud to do the cleaning, bar work, you name it, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
But we had such fun. It was like ‘My family and other animals’ at times. There are no ‘quiet’ types in this family, and the noise could often be deafening as we fought to be heard. On our first ever holiday back ‘home’ to Dungarven, Co Waterford, Mum, bless her, let us do the packing. Among the numerous suitcases, was one for shoes and another for toys. In Ireland we were taken down a long driveway, lined with copper beech trees. As we rounded a bend, a double fronted Georgian house came into view. This was, The Beeches’, Mum’s childhood home. By the time of our visit, it had fallen into a state of shabby grandeur, but, to our young eyes, it was impressive with its sweeping staircases, crystal door knobs, huge gardens. For the first time, we appreciated Mum’s life before marriage, before us, was very different.
The contrast was stark, but still she never complained. That’s probably because the thing she was proudest of was her children. Bringing up nine on her own didn’t give her many career opportunities (though she did achieve a City & Guilds in Catering in her 40s). Many is the time we would all hear her say: ‘I may not have done much with my life, but the thing I’ve done best is bring you all up.’ She was fiercely proud of that, and fiercely proud of us. I don’t think we fully appreciated what an achievement that was.
So, now she is gone and there is a huge, empty, lonely gap. What will we do without her.
Nina O’Mahony 15/10/32 – 12/11/2017